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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

review: Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

Nightrunner #1:
Luck in the Shadows
by Lynn Flewelling

When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate.
Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things – none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing.
Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be...Luck in the Shadows.
adult fiction ; fantasy ; glbt { genre
PG-13 for violence and sexual content { rating
September 1, 1996 { first released
Spectra paperback (479 pages) { review edition
bought from used bookstore { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Recommended on many blogs/sites as a good glbt fantasy that's a touch less romance and more action.

First Lines
Asengai's torturers were regular in their habits—they always left off at sunset.
Chained again in his corner of the drafty cell, Alec turned his face to the rough stone wall and sobbed until his chest ached.

Overall Rating

A great GLBT fantasy that doesn't rush into a storm of UST and smut. Seregil and Alec share a slow-building relationship, from strangers to master-apprentice, to close friends and equals. The relationship plot does not push aside the fleshed-out minor characters and their web of complex motives, while the adventure plot is well thought out, and not overshadowed by relationship angst. A great first novel to a series that promises well-paced action, strong personalities, and a budding romance built on friendship and trust rather than pure UST and lust.

review posted to, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari


From most of the GLBT novels I've read so far, this had the most complex character interactions, and least amount of pages dedicated to spontaneous sex (next to none). I loved the kingdom ruled (specifically) by strong women, and I can forgive the underdevelopment of the female characters on account that the author has dedicated another series to them (Tamir Trilogy). There are a few interesting female characters that were given a bit of backstory and relevance though, and hey, the women aren't just there to prove the gay men's non-attraction to them! (plus, I think Seregil and Alec are both bi)
I am also happy that the author didn't make "gay" the default for her world (a common folly I think, for GLBT authors, making every character in their book gay...), it is a "sin" in some characters' eyes, but the fact that there are GLBT brothels intermingled with heterosexual ones means they have some form of acceptance in society (admittedly, this is only in the kingdom ruled by women, but still...)
The romantic relationship between Seregil and Alec bears absolutely no fruit in this book (but I sneaked ahead and there's a kiss at the end of book 2!), and I'm not sure if I feel disappointed or glad...though I guess with Alec being 16 and all...Still, the slow transition from slight distrust (Seregil) and indebtedness (Alec), to respect and fondness is a great change of pace from the usual love/lust-at-first-sight thing.
The only real qualm I have about this book is that the mystery wasn't particularly engrossing for me. Not to say that it was all about romance either, because as I said, it really really isn't. Just, it wasn't a mind-blowing mind twister, nor was it particularly "personal" for the reader. Alec and Seregil are more caught up in a Bigger Bad Thing than they are as center-of-the-world heroes. I don't mind of course, since I'm more in love with the character interaction and stuff. There is the whole "remember this fleetingly mentioned obscure name/inconspicuous history lesson in case it totally turns up later" angle though, if that's fun for you.


Seregil, though he's the older, experienced "master/teacher", is rather childish at times and does not make himself out to be aloof or superior. Alec, the student and "indebted" one is in no sense a weakling or an idiot, and teaches Seregil as much as he learns from him. They respect each other as individuals who can take care of themselves, but don't hesitate to save each others' lives.
I love Seregil's complex relationship with his best friend Micum, the one with the ideal family and kids, and his reluctance to give up his involvement in Micum's life despite endangering it. I love Alec's modesty, quick learning, and his amazing shooting with the bow and arrow, just as much as that little murky quality to his past that doesn't get cleared up yet.
I also like the little glimpses we get into the minor characters' lives. It's actually quite amazing how much the author manages to bring each side character to life within a few paragraphs, especially the wise courtesan friend of Seregil's, and the Queen and her generals.
I'm not so sure how I feel about the bad guys though. The main "baddie" in this book though was a rather impersonal character I thought, no real connection to the boys. The other two, they're cruel and malicious enough, and their motives just that shade of gray to make me interested.
They are all a little typical (the "surrogate family" with the happy children, the wise old wizard, the evil baddie), but each have a little something extra or lacking that makes them unique enough to capture the reader's empathy.


The writing is fairly easy to read, though probably more suited to an adult audience since there are cryptic prophecies/visions/ballads/etc. that use "old" language. Most of the story takes place outside courtrooms and fancy upper-class life though, so it's mostly natural dialogue, with a bit of snark and fun mixed in.
The overall mystery is built up over briefly mentioned political conspiracies and such, so it's not quite obscure and not quite subtle.
I admit I didn't really like the "storyteller exposition" at some points in the novel, where Seregil explains political/cultural/historical stuff to Alec, but there wasn't too much, so I just skimmed a bit.


A lot of the overarching plotline are left unresolved at the end of this first book: Seregil/Alec UST, the wooden discs, the two guys chasing after them, the war. My biggest draw is of course the relationship: how it will develop, how Alec would act (he's still not "in love" with Seregil yet), how Seregil will act (he's trying to repress it)...I also cannot wait to read more about the other characters and what roles they will play in the war.
The ending-with-a-scary-vision thing is a bit...cliffhanger trying too hard, and I'm not a huge fan of cryptic messages meant only to confuse, but I guess it's better than "and then they all shook hands and patted each other on the back, with a snarky comment and a group laugh"?
Either way, definitely picking up the second book as soon as possible.

Nightrunner Series
#1 Luck in the Shadows (1996)
#2 Stalking Darkness (1997)
#3 Traitor's Moon (1999)
#4 Shadows Return (2008)
#5 The White Road (2009)

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge (2010) → L for Luck (title)
New Author Challenge (2010) → Lynn Flewelling
TwentyTen Challenge → Who Are You Again?
GLBT Challenge (2010) → GLBT characters
Fantasy Challenge (2010)
1st in Series Challenge (2010) → Nightrunner Series

Meme Features
In My Mailbox: 2010/05/09
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Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Lookie! The title that everyone keeps telling me I should read but I haven't done so yet! lololol I'll get around to reading it, honest. The sloooooooooooow burn romance sounds cute, and you've waved away all my usual objections to the whole master-apprentice dynamic (I'm actually kinda excited about this?! It seems like the rare one that's done thoughtfully without some serious skeevy waved off power issues that would turn me off) I'd totally leech this off of you, but alas, the whole separated by ocean thing. T_T

brandileigh2003 said...

Well developed minor characters are always a plus! THanks for the review.
Visiting from Saturday Situation!
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog